About Me

My photo
Married twenty-five years to my wonderful husband and best friend. We have 3 "home-grown" kids and 1 hand-picked by God from Africa. Our life is blessed. We are a close knit family with strong Christian beliefs. Come along with us on our journey…you might have a great laugh or two.

Friday, November 30, 2012

I have conquered french fries...

I never thought I would say it but I have finally conquered french fries.  How to cook them that is.  I've cooked them before.  Lots.  And lots.  But they have always come out soggy and limp like a greasy ol' noodle.  Never have they come out like they do at that place which we don't mention in this house because 3 year old ears are ALWAYS listening.  I'm not saying any names but it rhymes with...pacdonald's (okay, totally made that one up...but nothing rhymes with that greasy ol' place - serves it right).

But I have finally been able to say that I can cook up a mean ol' bunch of crispy french fries.  Totally not good for you.  Yes, I know.  But given we don't have them very often I think it's okay to bend the rules a little and fry us up a bunch of these.  It is a process.  But once you "get" the process then it's really quite easy. 

So tonight, grill you up some BBQ bacon and cheddar burgers (seriously, if you're going to break the rules...go all out) and enjoy this recipe.  It's worth it!

Ingredients: (recipe credit:  Emeril Lagasse - food network)

4 large russet potatoes, peeled and cut into 1/4 by 1/4-inch thick batons
2 quarts peanut oil
Salt and pepper
Rinse cut potatoes in a large bowl with lots of cold running water until water becomes clear. Cover with water by 1-inch and cover with ice. Refrigerate at least 30 minutes and up to 2 days.
In a 5-quart pot or Dutch oven fitted with a candy or deep-frying thermometer, (or in an electric deep fryer), heat oil over medium-low heat until the thermometer registers 325 degrees F. Make sure that you have at least 3 inches of space between the top of the oil and the top of the pan, as fries will bubble up when they are added.

Drain ice water from cut fries and wrap potato pieces in a clean dishcloth or tea towel and thoroughly pat dry. Increase the heat to medium-high and add fries, a handful at a time, to the hot oil. Fry, stirring occasionally, until potatoes are soft and limp and begin to turn a blond color, about 6 to 8 minutes. Using a skimmer or a slotted spoon, carefully remove fries from the oil and set aside to drain on paper towels. Let rest for at least 10 minutes or up to 2 hours.

When ready to serve the French fries, reheat the oil to 350 degrees F. Transfer the blanched potatoes to the hot oil and fry again, stirring frequently, until golden brown and puffed, about 1 minute. Transfer to paper lined platter and sprinkle with salt and pepper, to taste. Serve immediately.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Decorating for Christmas...oh, and some of the best blueberry muffins EVER!

Last night the boys dragged up all of my Christmas boxes/decorations from our basement.  Now, the process of decorating begins...you know, where you get REALLY messy at first in order for it to be neat and clean later....well, we are not quite at that neat and clean yet.  Truth be told, I'm about as far from it as you can get.  So tonight when I looked around at the chaos gaining speed as the seconds went by, I decided that there was no way I was going to add to this mess by cooking some elaborate dinner. 


It was breakfast at night.  Have you ever had breakfast at night?  Oh man, sometimes it is exactly what you need.  The smell of muffins and eggs drifting through the house.  These muffins are seriously the best blueberry muffins ever.  Of course, I cannot take credit for this recipe, if I could then I would have a cookbook and be rich and famous and have a personal shopper because I have a serious issue with shopping...food shopping, not a problem...clothes, toys, and everything else - ugh!  That would mean I would have to venture into the mall (think, evil music playing) and that's a whole other blog post right there.  So since that whole cookbook thing is not panning out for me, I guess I'll go and try and clean up Christmas tree needles and that silver tinsel stuff - which by the way, in the winter will stick to EVERYTHING. 

Enjoy the blueberry muffins...

Ingredients:  (recipe credit - all recipes "to die for blueberry muffins")

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

An obession...

Last night our house smelled like chicken noodle soup.  Except that it wasn't soup I was cooking.  Just smelled like it.  I had baked a wonderful chicken in the oven for dinner .  When dinner was over I shredded the chicken off the bones and I was not about to let those wonderful chicken parts, bones and all those other things I don't want to know the name of, go to waste.  So at 8 o'clock I threw that chicken back into a pot (along with a bunch of veggies and spices) and by 10 o'clock I had 7 mason jars filled with wonderful golden chicken broth.  It's incredibly simple and tastes wonderful in soups and stews.  Best news is that I know exactly what's in it.  And that's why I do what I do...

I am finding that the deeper I go into making everything homemade, the more I am using every last inch of the food we eat.  If you go to the trouble of peeling or chopping or shelling something, by golly, you begin to appreciate just exactly where your food comes from and what goes into preparing it.  If the kids sit and shell peanuts for a while just to get a jar of peanut butter, then they are more likely to eat every last drop because they took the time to make it.  I find myself looking at food very differently right now. 

For instance, if I am shopping for vegetables right now in the store, I wonder where in the world is it warm enough to grow a good ripe tomato.  Because it sure ain't warm here.  Many times our fruits and vegetables are being shipped from a great distance.  And that means that this tomato, I'm holding in my hands, has been on a truck for at least a couple of weeks (or more) before it has even come to me.  It's no wonder that a tomato bought in the middle of winter tastes so bad in comparison to one at its ripest during the summer.  There is no comparison. 

So what started as a game to me just to see how many things I can make homemade is very quickly becoming an obsession of finding the best quality food for my family.  I realize that this will take me some time, but my new goal is to provide (meaning canning and freezing) this summer enough fresh quality fruits and vegetables that we can put away to last us throughout the winter until next summer garden season rolls around. 

It will take LOTS of planning on my part, for this is a big family that likes to eat...a lot.  It will take getting a WAY BIGGER garden.  And it will take...going local.  Local for the things that I cannot grow.  Going local for my apples and blueberries and strawberries.  Going local for my honey and going local for the things I cannot grow.  I already lined up a cow from a local farmer to eat...the cow that is, not the farmer.  And also a pig.  Now, I just need to find a farmer with free-range chickens and fresh eggs.  That shouldn't be that hard, right?  We live in Iowa.  Farm belt city.  Surely there's some farmer out there who can hear my plea.  Or....better yet....maybe I'll just talk my husband into moving out to the country and buying some land.  Our own little green acres....it's the place to be....farm living's the life for me....(sorry, just started belting out a song there). 

Well, I may not make it through perfectly this time...but I will prevail.  I must, it's definitely an obsession now.  Plus, think about what it will do for our food bill...yippee for us!

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Thanksgiving 2012

We had a wonderful time giving thanks with family and friends this year.  We drove 11 hours to be with my side of the family in the great state of Tennessee.  I'll be the first to admit that travelling that far is hard...on anybody really.  But my children don't know any different, they have grown up this way.  My husband's side of the family is also 11 hours...we can't win.  But still we pack each holiday and travel.  Why?  Because we love our family and we adore getting to spend time with them, albeit 4 hours, 2 days or 2 weeks.  It's what it's all about.  Not the turkey, the decorations or even the shopping.  It's about family.  It's what means the most. 

We hope that this Thanksgiving season found you surround by those you love and who love you the most.

Oh...and maybe some turkey could be thrown in there for good measure.  ...I'm just saying...no reason to go hungry...

Monday, November 19, 2012

Pita Bread

I'm in the kitchen today...where else would I be...making my favorite pita bread.  We are travelling for the holidays and I am in need of several things to take to feed our large family along the way.  Since we take our lunch on the road, I decided that I would make a large batch of these pita breads to fill with our favorite sandwich stuff.  It seems to be less messier in the car than our regular bread I make...and that, is a very good thing in a car packed full of people.  So here's my pita bread recipe.  Try it.  You will never buy pita bread from the store ever again...trust me on that one.

Pita Bread (recipe from the book "Homemade" by Reader's Digest)

1 1/2 cups warm water (105 - 110 F)
1 teaspoon dry yeast
1 teaspoon sugar
3 cups bread flour or all-purpose flour
1 heaping teaspoon salt
1 1/2 teaspoons olive oil plus additional
1/4 cup minced fresh herbs, such as thyme, rosemary, cilantro, or parsley (optional)

In a large bowl, combine the water and yeast.  Using a fork, stir rapidly to dissolve the yeast. Add the sugar and 1 1/2 cups flour.  Using the paddle attachment of an electric mixer, stir until all the ingredients are well blended.  Cover the bowl with lightly oiled plastic wrap and let stand in a warm place until the dough has doubled in size, about 2 hours.

Add the salt, 1 1/2 teaspoons oil, and the remaining 1 1/2 cups flour.  Again using the paddle attachment, beat the mixture until it is smooth and elastic, 5 to 10 minutes.

Lightly flour a work surface and lightly oil a large bowl.  Turn out the dough onto the work surface and knead until the dough is smooth and elastic, 10 to 12 minutes.  Place the dough in the bowl and turn it until it is completely coated in the oil.  Cover the bowl with lightly oiled plastic wrap and set in a warm place to let the dough rise, about 1 1/2 hours.

Preheat the oven to 475 degrees F.  Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or foil.

Lightly flour the work surface again and turn out the dough onto the surface.  Divide the dough into 4 balls (sometimes I make 5).  Using a rolling pin, roll each ball into a 1/2 inch thick, 6 inch diameter circle.  Place the dough circles on the prepared baking sheet.  Lightly brush each circle with oil and, if desired, sprinkle with herbs.  Bake until the pita breads are golden, about 8 minutes.  Remove the pita breads to wire racks to cool.  Cut in half when cooled.

Everyone needs this book...

I use this book at lot.  So much so that I would check it out from our local library and gripe so much when I had to finally take it back that my Mom took pity on me and finally bought me my own copy.  Love it!  It's not my only cookbook I use, but it's definitely one to own.  It has everything from shampoos to breads to how to make your own marshmallows...gonna try me that one, for sure.  Today I'm making pita bread from this book.  I'll post that one next. 

So if you've got a hankerin' for homemade caramels or marshmallows or even pita bread...you gotta get this book.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

The bagel making factory...

This morning I had to provide breakfast to the high school swim team.  Swimmers, people.  I don't know much about what other kids in other sports are like, but what I do know is that swimmers have ENORMOUS appetites.  Trust me, I have three swimmers...I know these things.

So yesterday I had to become the bagel making factory.  Bagel after bagel crossed my counter tops and child after child tried to swipe one.  Besides making a boatload of bagels (48 total), I also made 3 breakfast sausage/egg casseroles and 3 loaves of bread.  Needless to say, I did not leave the kitchen until late that evening.  Man oh man though, did my house ever smell so good.  Too bad my house wasn't for sale, I could have sold it in a heartbeat.

Bagels in the cooking process

Finished bagels...yum!

So in keeping with my "all things homemade" section, here's my favorite bagel recipe.  Enjoy!

Homemade Bagels (recipe from Williams Sonoma Breads)

4 tsp. active dry yeast
2 T. sugar
2 cups warm water (105 - 115 degrees)
2 T. canola oil
1 T. salt
5 1/2 cups bread flour
2 T. vital wheat gluten
Vegetable oil cooking spray
1 T. baking soda
1 egg white beaten with 1 T. water until foamy

In a bowl, sprinkle the yeast and a pinch of the sugar over 1/2 cup of the warm water and stir to dissolve.  Let stand until foamy, about 10 minutes.

In a heavy-duty mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, combine the remaining water, the oil, and the remaining sugar, the salt, 2 cups of the flour and the gluten.  Beat on medium speed until creamy, about 1 minute.  Add the yeast mixture and 1 cup of the flour and beat for 1 minute.  Beat in the remaining flour, 1/2 cup at a time, until the dough pulls away from the bowl sides.

Switch to the dough hook.  Knead on low speed, adding flour 1 tablespoon at a time if the dough sticks, until smooth and elastic, about 6 minutes.  Leave the dough in the mixing bowl and cover loosely with plastic wrap.  Let rise at room temperature until doubled in bulk, about 1 hour.

Line 2 baking sheets with parchment (baking) paper and brush the paper with oil.  Turn the dough out onto a  lightly floured board and divide into 4 portions.  Divide each portion into 3 pieces.  Shape each piece of dough into a smooth, round ball and flatten with your palm.  Poke a floured finger through the middle of a ball.  Stretch the hole, rolling your finger around the inside of the hole, to make it about 1 inch in diameter.  Continue to roll your finger or thumb around inside the dough to enlarge the hole; it will shrink slightly when you stop.

Place on prepared baking sheet and repeat with the remaining dough, spacing the bagels about 2 inches apart.  Spray the bagels with vegetable oil spray.  Cover with plastic and let rise at room temperature until puffy, 15 - 20 minutes. 

While the bagels are rising, prepare the water bath.  In a large wide pot, bring 4 - 6 quarts water to a boil over high heat.  Add the baking soda and reduce the heat to medium to maintain a gentle boil.  Preheat oven to 425 degrees F.

Using a skimmer, lower 3 or 4 bagels into the water.  They will drop to the bottom and then rise to the surface quickly.  As they come to the surface, turn each bagel and boil on the second side for 2 minutes.

Using the skimmer, transfer the bagels to a dry kitchen towel to drain for a moment, then return to the prepared baking sheets, placing them 1 inch apart.  When all the bagels are boiled, brush them with the egg white mixture and sprinkle with any desired topping(s).  Bake until golden brown, 16 - 20 minutes.  Remove from the oven and transfer to racks to cool completely.

Makes 1 dozen large bagels.  (credit for recipe:  Williams Sonoma)

She loved being in my warm kitchen all day long...

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Homemade Butter...

 Last night, I made some homemade butter.  I don't know why but I get excited about making butter.  Maybe it's the process of change that the whipping cream goes through.  You know, taking a liquid and making a solid...of course, I guess ice could give you the same satisfaction.  But I'd probably call you weird on that one.


"Butter, people...I just made butter!  Isn't that so cool?"  I exclaimed last night in the kitchen.  My husband and little ones were less than impressed. I realize that you could buy it in big enormous vats, but it isn't as fresh or wouldn't' be as cool to watch...the big vat that is.

So here's my easy peazy recipe for making your own healthy butter.

Homemade Butter
(you will need a large stand up mixer)
This recipe makes about a cup (I usually double or triple this)

2 cups -  organic heavy whipping cream
1/4  tsp.  - salt

Place cream in large stand up mixer.  Turn on high and watch and wait.  It will be very splattery.  (I use my splatter guard and still put a towel over the mixer)  After a few minutes it will start to look like whipped cream...at that point you are close to being done.  When it begins to look like cottage cheese and there is milk at the bottom you have just made butter.  Yeah!!  Strain the milk (buttermilk) from the bowl.  You can use this in anything that calls for buttermilk.  It's great.  Rinse the butter with cold water pressing and squeezing the butter.  You are trying to get any excess liquid out of the butter.  After rinsing, store in a jar (I love mason jars) and keep refrigerated. 

The butter I made last night (shown in the picture above) made a jar and a half of buttermilk.  We loved it in our pancakes for breakfast the morning. 

Friday, November 2, 2012

All things homemade...

This past week I got a notice in the mail from Costco regarding a recall on their natural peanut butter they sell.  Ugh...another recall.  This one had to deal with the possibility of salmonella in the peanut butter.  My kids wondered how eggs got into the ingredients in the first place, seeing that only peanuts are in peanut butter.  Of course, I tried to explained to them that many factories make different items, but to be honest I didn't really know the answer.  It seemed a bit odd to me as well.

"Eww...think about what else could be in your food", my little girl said.  I closed my eyes and tried not to think about it.  But I couldn't. 

Why do I buy prepackaged peanut butter?  Hmm, convenience...maybe?  But seriously, how hard is it to make peanut butter.  It's nuts, right?   Homemade.  That's the way to go.  I could totally make this stuff.  So I decided that I would have some fun with this.  Make it like a game for me.  Just how many things could I make homemade. 

So here goes.  I'm putting a running list on the side bar of my blog that has all the things I've made homemade that otherwise I would have bought prepackaged.  I'm going to call it "all things homemade".  If possible I'll include the link to my favorite recipe (believe me, I probably did not create it without a recipe.  I'm a recipe girl) and we'll just see how far this goes.  So the more I cook (and remember what I've cooked in the past) I'll add it to my list.

Since I already make a boatload of things homemade, I've got a good start on this list.  I'd love take out the last of the processed foods we eat from our diet.  It may take some time.  I've got some "stubborn" ones who still very much like white bread....I'll have to work on that one.  Of course, I'll have to take diet coke out of my own diet (for now though it makes me happy...and "ain't nobody happy if momma ain't happy".  But I promise I'll try and work on it- maybe tomorrow). 

So let's start going back to the basics.  Get out those aprons and let's get cooking...

Thursday, November 1, 2012

I have unleashed "the beast"...

About a month ago I decided to not do anything with my hair.  Wait, wait, I take that back.  I "try" to do something with my hair, but trust me...everyday it has a mind of its own.  The thing is I decided to stop doing damage to my hair and that meant taking some VERY drastic measures....going curly.

Did you know that God blessed me with curly hair?  Probably not.  I have for many, many, many years done everything I could to combat these wild curls with all measures known possible to man.  Curling irons, straighteners, hair straightener conditioner thingys...you name it I probably have tried it.  Why you might ask?  Well, curly hair went out in the 80's and didn't really seem to make that much of a comeback.  Straight hair seemed to be all the style, the rage and soooo, not what God blessed me with. 

So about a month ago, I gave up.  Threw in the towel.  Chucked my hair dryer, curling irons, brushes and have been going "oh so natural" ever since.  Here's what I've learned...

If you decide to go with your natural curly look you will have people come up to you and not even recognize you (even though you are holding your little brown one...thought that one would give me away). 

You will get more compliments on the wildest of hair days than you ever had and are afraid to tell them that you can't remember the last time you washed your hair.  (Did you know that curly headed people shouldn't wash their hair with the commerical shampoo out on the market?  No, I'm totally serious.  Lots of research here...trust, me.  Curly headed people have to protect their hair somethin' fierce.  You have to use an organic type of shampoo or make your own...which is what I do...make my own that is)

Since going curly, my husband is often afraid to see what I will look like when he walks through the door.  Although he has yet to admit it, I'm not sure he's on board with this whole curly thing I got going on, which I then conveniently remind him that I was curly when we got married.  (Of course, that was twenty years ago and I was thinner and had less gray hair as well...but I don't remind him of those things)

Weird thing is, the longer I go curly the curlier my hair is becoming.  And you have never seen such a healthy head of hair.  Soft curls that now have a chance of growing long (before with the straightening, my hair was dry, brittle and constantly breaking).  Now, maybe I'll grow it long.  That my husband would love.

So curly headed people, heed my call.  Throw out that shampoo and straighteners.  And let's bring back the 80's.  Don't make me do this on my own...

Before with straight hair
Curly...and getting curlier every day